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As monkeypox cases rise, advocates say so is the stigma surrounding it

Posted at 10:35 PM, Jul 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-21 05:45:13-04

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Monkeypox cases are up, and so is concern about the disease.

"We're getting calls every day," said Dr. Bob Wallace.

Doctor Wallace said many of those calls are from people in the LGBTQ+ community who are desperate for information about the disease and how to prevent it.

ABC Action News got some of those answers at a Pinellas County Health Department briefing Wednesday.

Here's what we learned—right now, there are 208 cases in the state and 15 of them are in the Tampa Bay area. Of that 15, Pinellas County accounts for nine cases.


But the Director of the Pinellas County Health Department, Dr. Ulyee Choe, said the spread isn't as bad as a cold or flu.

"The illness isn't easily transmissible it does require that close physical contact. You can get it casually by being in public settings with someone that is infected," Dr. Choe said.

Choe added that right now, men who have sex with men make up the majority of current cases, and they are urging people in that community to get tested and vaccinated as soon as possible.

Dr. Wallace said it's information that has been helpful to the patients he works with but also deeply stigmatizing.

"You know, having been an aids doctor, I went through discrimination, death threats, you name it, and I just don't want to see that kind of thing happen again to the gay community," Dr. Wallace said.

Another concern highlighted Wednesday was a lack of information about monkeypox vaccines. According to the Pinellas County Health Department, our state has gotten 25,000 doses from the federal government. They tell ABC Action News the supply is being spread around to parts of the state where they're seeing cases pop up.

"We have began transferring vaccines to those community partners," said Dr. Choe.

If you'd like a vaccine, they ask that you call your doctor or your local health department for more information. That's the knowledge that the folks over at Equality Florida hope everyone takes in as they remind the public that this disease can be spread to anyone.

"The challenge with stigmatizing illness is that it leads to shame, and shame leads to people not getting access to the care that they need, it leads to them not getting tested," said Equality Florida's Press Secretary Brandon Wolf.

Pinellas County Health Department officials also say Meningococcal disease is on the rise.

So far this year, Florida has already seen 48 cases and 12 deaths—which is almost double the 27 cases we saw in all of 2021.

Symptoms include sudden high fever, light sensitivity, headaches, a red and purple rash, and a stiff neck. But according to Dr. Choe, there are treatments available if you have it or have been exposed. There is also a vaccine to help prevent the spread that you can get free at your local health department.